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At Goodwood Home Farm with Farm Manager of the Year 2015, Tim Hassell on the country’s first organic dairy herd and handling two centuries of heritage

1st November 2016

Tim is no ordinary farmer and he manages no ordinary farm. Innovating in the face of Britain’s dairy downturn, over seven years Tim has transformed the 3,500 acre organic Home Farm on the Goodwood Estate – best known hosting world-famous, quintessential British summer events. The son of a steelworker, raised in Sheffield and winner of Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year in 2015, Tim has worked his magic to modernise the farm while remaining committed to traditional sustainable practices. The result? Incredible quality milk without succumbing to a future as a mega-dairy and selling to supermarkets. 

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Goodwood Home Farm Manager Tim is happy with his herd.

With customers ranging from locals buying milk at the farm gate to London’s Ritz Hotel, our free-ranging reporter Nigel caught up with Tim to talk about being home to first dairy herd to be entirely organically-fed in this country, the joys of milk terroir and handling two centuries of heritage.

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The rolling fields of Goodwood Home Farm.

Tell us a little about the history and set up behind Goodwood Home Farm.

The Duke and Duchess of Richmond (who are retired) and Lord and Lady March are the chairman of the company. It’s been family owned since 1760 and the Duchess of Richmond was one of the Soil Association’s earliest members. She ran her kitchen garden on organic principles and passed her passion down to her family. Home Farm had the first 100% organically fed dairy in the country and is the largest lowland organic farm in the UK. We employ about 26 people across the farm – which includes delivery drivers, cheese makers. Then there’s nearly 600 people that work across the whole business – it’s a massive local employer. We’re near Chichester and the location’s perfect. You’ve got everything you need, the downs, the sea…From a farming point of view it’s quite kind in terms of both the soil and the weather.

What do you rear on the farm and what are your methods?

We are dairy farmers, but we’ve also got sheep, pigs and arable crops as well. We’re a totally mixed farm. We’re organic and we’re in Higher Level Stewardship (a government scheme designed to support environmentally beneficial management practices) up on the downs and on the farm we’re very much a grass-based traditional breeds system – we’re raising Sussex cattle, South Down sheep and Shorthorn Dairy cows. It’s very much a low input system. Most organic farms are low input systems just by their nature.

What makes your farm special?

The one thing that makes us different to other farms is that we have to dovetail in with the rest of the Estate and its events with lots of visitors! You lose fields for car parking but you have to see the bigger picture. Beyond our unique setup, it’s about the breeds we’ve got – what they eat and how they are looked after by the incredible team we have here – and it’s about the system we’ve created where everything we do helps everything else. It’s not one specific thing as such – it’s all about the system, and the system works.

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One Dairy Shorthorn cow striking a pose.

Why Dairy Shorthorn cows in particular?

They were introduced before I came and it was a case of fitting the system whilst producing a good beef cross (a cow for eating). They suit an organic forage based system and there’s the benefit of their dual purpose – if you’re crossing a Sussex bull on a Shorthorn Dairy cow you’re getting a really good beef animal too.

They’re an easy animal to look after and we don’t push them, so on average they’ll produce 6000 litres of milk a year (which compares to all year round indoor units of mass-produced milk where cows can average 11,000 litres). The fat of their milk sit up at around 4.2 – 4.3% and protein levels around 3.3%, so it’s all about quality not quantity. They are really nice cows to work with too, really hardy and laid-back.

How many days are they outside a year and what’s the lifespan of a Goodwood cow compared to mega-dairy cow?

The cows come into the sheds at the end of October and turn out (are brought out to pasture to graze on grass) around the middle to end of February, so they spend about 8 months of the year out to pasture. We will have cows that will have done 10-12 lactations (periods of milking) in a lifetime. I’d say our average is around 7 or 8 compared to the ‘industry’ standard of 2.5 lactations.

What is the diet of one of your dairy cows?

When they are out to pasture they are eating a mixed ley (a system where the fields are used for pasture and the soil is filled with grasses or other plants for the animals to graze on, increasing the fertility of the soil). There will be 3 or 4 different types of grass and they’ll have white clover, perhaps some chicory and perennial herb plantain – and that’s about it.

We will always feed them what we call a ‘buffer feed’. This is because when you turn the animals out in the spring the butter fat drops because the food is going through the animal too quickly. On top of that they’ll get a top up of protein. They’ll have the grass silage (grass that’s stored in airtight conditions to provide feed over the winter) and whole crop silage (made from oats and vetch, which is a bit like a pea), so we’ll harvest that when the grain goes to a cheese-y stage and the vetch. They get home-grown oats and we buy in a protein blend which has seeds in such as sunflower seeds.

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Beautiful fertile landscape of the farm, full of healthy grass and forage herbs for the cows to chow down on.

Can you tell us about animal health and use of antibiotics?

Animal health and welfare is paramount to us. We have a strict herd health plan in place and regularly test what bugs we’ve got so we know what treatment to target. If we do need to treat a cow with antibiotics, we’ll revert back to conventional treatment. Last year out of 200 cows – we only had 15 cases of treatable mastitis (inflammation of the udder) in the whole year, so a very tiny amount.

What are the health benefits of unhomogenised milk?

It’s something Lady March is very keen on – that we don’t homogenise our milk and our pasteurisation is as low a heat as we can legally go. When milk is homogenised, it’s forced through tiny holes so fat molecules break down. We believe unhomgenised milk is far better for you as the fat globules stay in their natural state.

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Are you talking to me?

Let’s talk milk terroir. Do you think the single herd milk reflects the Goodwood terroir?

Yes I think so! The quality is what you’d expect from Goodwood and it has a silky kind of smoothness to it.

Anything else we should know?

My title at Goodwood is Mr Grumpy! I do think it’s quite cool that a lad from Sheffield is running one of the most prestigious estates in the South of England – something that most people wouldn’t quite expect on a personal level. From a business point of view, we’re coming out of the shadows of Goodwood. The estate has got a strap line in that they want to become famous for their food – and that’s been driven by the farm.

See all of Goodwood’s incredible Organic Milk on the shop.

Nigel is a third generation farmer, editor and photographer with a love of capturing small-scale independent farms and artisanal food producers. Our kinda guy.

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